As you look around for an appropriate care home for either yourself or someone you love you’ll want to make sure that you’re making the right decision. Here are our top tips for what to look out for.

First impressions

Your gut instinct is definitely worth taking into account and first impressions can often be pretty accurate. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest differences such as a warm greeting, how a place looks at first glance or even if there is an unusual smell.


A good source of information is the residents. Whilst you can’t very well sit down and interview them, you’ll be able to grasp at least a few ideas from their general countenance. Do they look happy and are they responsive? Are they just sitting around or are they involved in activities of some sort? You should also look at how they are dressed and groomed since this indicates both how they are being treated and often what their state of mind is.

How they interact with staff is also important. You might observe how they speak with staff and indeed how they are spoken with. Are they encouraged to do things for themselves and to be as independent as they can be?


Of course, it’s important that the care home itself is pleasant but you need to know how easy it’ll be to visit. In other words, is it too far away to drop in unannounced? Depending on the nature of care, it might also be good to have a few amenities within walking distance such as shops or a cafe for those residents who are able to get out and about a little bit.

Access and facilities

The care home you select needs to be a practical choice without obstacles to a calm and quiet lifestyle. Entrances and exits need to be of an appropriate width and should be equipped with ramps where needed and it’s also important to make sure that corridors and other spaces are suitable for anyone that uses mobility equipment. You should also consider whether bathing and toilet facilities are suitable and you may need to discuss any adaptations with the care home manager (including those such as hearing induction loops and the like).

Not all disabilities are physical of course. With this in mind, depending on the individual you should find out if staff have been properly trained to assist people with intellectual disabilities and conditions such as dementia.


Top of the list are privacy and dignity. Having a single room that a person can really call ‘their own’ will go a long way to achieving this. With this in mind you need to find out if residents are able to bring any possessions with them including a few items of furniture to make it feel more homely. This will help with the adjustment to living in a new place and help the person moving in to feel as if they’ve retained at least some control over events.

Watch for how staff respect peoples’ privacy. Observe if they knock and wait at the door before entering, for example. On a more practical level it’s important that rooms are kept clean and are bright and airy. Remember though that you’re looking at a new home and not a transitory hotel room.

Toilets and bathing

It is likely that at least some of the facilities will be shared. The first thing is to make sure that the toilet is within easy reach and that there are enough of them to service the amount of people in the home without too much waiting around. Naturally, they should be accessible and you may need to discuss any specific adaptations that are required.

Similarly with bathing, privacy and dignity are important but so is safety. You need to know if the bathing facilities are appropriate in terms of access and usage but also what measures are on hand if somebody takes a fall and so on. (Much of this conversation will depend on the level of care agreed.)


Meals are an important part of everyday routine and of course physical wellbeing but they are also another clue as to how people are treated. Sitting at a table and eating with other people is a great indicator of the social atmosphere of a place. How meals are organised and taken will say a lot about the style of care in the care home.

Of course, a choice of meals should be on offer to make sure that anyone with likes and dislikes and any specific dietary requirements is catered for. Missing meals apart from in instances of ill health is unacceptable. In some cases it is necessary to find out if staff have been trained properly and sensitively to help people to eat their food.


You need to know that in the event of an illness or exacerbation of existing symptoms that there are robust procedures in place to get the correct medical assistance be it from a GP or hospital intervention.

In the everyday, you should also make sure that staff are able to assist residents in taking the correct doses of any medications they are on and have access to other forms of medical care such as those from dentists and chiropodists etc.


Just because somebody becomes resident in a care home does not mean to say that they should be severed from the outside world. It’s a good idea to find out if visitors are allowed to drop by when they like since the shortest unexpected visit can mean a lot to somebody in residential care. Find out if you’ll be able to go out or even join somebody for a meal since this makes a visit more fun and a bit more relaxed and ‘natural’.

Security and safety

Measures for security and safety should overlap everything else. You need to know what measures are in place to keep track of where residents are as well as how they reduce the risk of falls and the like as well as what might happen if something goes wrong or if there’s an emergency evacuation, for example.


You can get a really good idea of how a place operates and of any potential fault lines from the way in which it is managed. If there’s one person you need to meet on your first visit to a care home it’s the care home manager. How they act will be a huge indicator to how the residents are looked after. You need to feel confident in the manager since you’ll realise that how they operate will have a direct influence over the rest of the staff.

Clearly, the care home manager needs a friendly manner and a relaxed and outgoing personality. They should also understand and be able to answer any questions regarding your concerns. The manager should have a part to play in assessing a person before they move into the care home as well as their care plan (and any future changes made to it).


So much of how a care home is run is down to the staff. Take time to observe how they speak with and treat residents as well as their general demeanour. If they are unhappy, the likelihood is that they will make those around them unhappy. Try to find out about the level of their training and any areas of specialism such as training in dementia care for example (where needed).


The contract should make absolutely clear what is provided and what isn’t as well as what could be considered as ‘extras’. The contract will outline the nature of the care and what arrangements are made for such time as the resident’s condition deteriorates and so on. In short, you need to know what you’re paying for.

Get advice from a solicitor or Citizen’s Advice Bureau before you sign any agreement.